I handed Brian the next ghost to hang from the balcony. Something stirred in the shrubbery and I jumped. My husband laughed as two chipmunks ran onto the balcony. They froze when they saw us. I stared into their beady, black eyes.
Were you there? Do you remember?
I couldn’t be sure, but for one fleeting instant, I thought I saw a flash of recognition in the eyes of the chipmunk nearest me. Yes, I’m sure I saw it. The chipmunk seemed to nod. It remembered then. Good. It knew there would be no sunflower seeds today. No nuts. No chunky peanut butter. Not even a morsel of bread. I nodded back and the chipmunks scurried away.
Brian stopped laughing. He remembered too. “They’ve returned,” he said in a quiet voice. He beckoned for a nail.
The anniversary of that horrific day drew nigh. I shuddered. Oh, the terror of that moment when the creature had hung lifeless before me.
It was October 26th. I had been sitting on my balcony enjoying the cool autumn air and a steaming cup of coffee when something stirred in the nearby bushes . . .
A squirrel. It sat on its hind legs, curled its tail, and stared at me. Oh, all right.
I went inside for sunflower seeds, but they were gone. All I had left were oatmeal cookies. Bad idea. I shouldn’t give the squirrel man’s white flour and sugar. It could get sick. Processed flour was barely fit for human consumption. Oh, but those eyes and the way its little nose twitched. Adowable.
I broke the cookie into bite sized pieces and tossed them at the squirrel. It greedily scooped in its teeny paws. Chipmunks came out of the bushes, noses wiggling as they sniffed the air. Two more squirrels joined but kept their distance, unlike the three chipmunks who now sat bravely at my feet packing their little jaws full of the goodness that is a homemade oatmeal cookie.
It was a scene right out of an animated Disney film, only I was wearing a brewery t-shirt paired with Brian’s gray football boxers rather than a beautiful gown, my head crowned with an afro of curls instead of a tiara. I breathed in deeply and sighed. The air smelled clean and fresh as the McDonald’s on the corner hadn’t started making fries yet. I smiled. It was going to be a great day.
I tossed out all the cookies and watched as the small furries began to scoop them up. Aww, so cuddly wuddly. I could just squeeze them.
Then the sky grew dark. Thunder sounded.
Ok, that didn’t actually happen, but it should have. Instead, the sun brightened. However, the thunder was real. It emanated from the flapping wings of a killer and resonated with the beat of my panicked heart. I yelled at them to leave. I tried to shoo them away. The squirrels vanished, but the chipmunks didn’t have time to react distracted as they were by my delicious oatmeal cookies.
I bake a mean oatmeal cookie. It is to die for. No, really, they’re super duper awesome.
I knew the killer. I had seen him before, but never this close. He swooped down in a flash and grabbed a chipmunk. All I heard was the beating of his wings as he held himself in the air even with my face. He was so close I could have touched him. We stared at each other, but I could not maintain eye contact with the cold-blooded killer before me. I looked down at the chipmunk in his claws, mind racing.
I could save him.
I could . . . .
But it was too late. Those massive claws had pierced the chipmunk’s wee stomach. Blood seeped from the gash. The chipmunk closed his eyes. A morsel of oatmeal cookie fell from his paws.
I looked back at the hawk. He stayed suspended before me, clutching his victim and stared, unblinking, holding my gaze firmly in his own. A cold breeze blew around me, but whether it came from the trees or the beating of those stealthy wings, I’ll never know, but it brought with it realization. The hawk was thanking me. When he saw that I understood, he flew away.
The other furries had vanished. I stood alone. My stomach churned, the violence too much to bear. I gripped the rail of the balcony. That chipmunk was somebody’s brother. Or sister. Or distant cousin thrice removed. This shouldn’t have happened. It was all my fault.
The sun shined down on the fall leaves that fell gracefully to the ground. McDonald’s would be frying fries soon. The Latino man who liked to ride around on the golf cart passed by, a huge grin plastered on his face. He waved. Sure, it was easy for him to smile. I forced myself to leave the balcony. My guilt weighed heavily upon my heart, but somehow I found the courage to move on. We all did.
We see each other occasionally, in passing. The chipmunks and squirrels look at me and we pause a moment to say hello. A really fast moment though because hawks are super speedy ninja birds. I no longer feed the furries and they understand why. I haven’t made oatmeal cookies since. I simply cannot bring myself to bake the Cookie of Death.
The hawk stalked me after the murder. He believed it had all been for him. He thought we were a team. I cursed each time I saw him and shook my fist in defiance.
“Beautiful? Can I get a nail, please?”
Brian’s voice pulled me from the day-mare. I handed him a nail and watched as he hung the last ghost. He stood back admiring his handiwork. The ghosts swayed gently in the breeze. I turned to go and caught a flash of brown in the shrubbery. I hesitated long enough to warn a new generation of furries.
Run little chipmunk. Run for your life on those teeny hind legs. Go, far from this blood-soaked balcony of death, for high above, the winged killer perches.